What have we learned from the first two days of the MotoGP shakedown test at Sepang so far? Well, the first thing we have learned is that it can still rain quite a lot in the tropics. The test riders and GasGas rookie Augusto Fernandez have not had a great deal of dry track time over the past couple of days.
Combine a damp track with the fact that it is test riders out there – Cal Crutchlow for Yamaha; Michele Pirro for Ducati; Lorenzo Savadori for Aprilia; Stefan Bradl for Honda; and Dani Pedrosa, Mika Kallio, and new signing Jonas Folger for KTM – alongside GasGas rookie Fernandez, and it means the times don't mean much. Fernandez gets extra track time by dint of being a rookie, compensation for the reduction of official testing time which has taken place over the last five years or so.
The other thing we have learned is something we already suspected, and for many fans, feared. MotoGP is barreling down the aerodynamics path at full tilt, and there is nothing to hold them back. As I wrote recently for On Track Off Road magazine, that horse has well and truly bolted, and is disappearing off into the distance at surprisingly high speed, thanks to its incredibly low drag coefficient.
Case in point: Aprilia. The Noale factory appears to have taken over the reins as the leading proponents of aerodynamic efficiency. That was apparent at the Barcelona test last year, where they debuted a fatter lower fairing aimed at creating ground effect (and therefore corner grip) when the bike is leaned over.
But Aprilia have taken that idea to the next level, gauging by the photos from Sepang so far. The first photo below, shows Miguel Oliveira, riding the RNF Aprilia at the Valencia test in November last year. Note the smooth side panels of the bike.
Compare that photo with this one (courtesy of Dorna/MotoGP.com) of Lorenzo Savadori at the shakedown test at Sepang. From the head-on shot, it is clear that the side of the fatter lower section is more carefully sculpted, channeling the airflow more precisely.
There will be time for deeper dives when we get to see the real McCoy in a couple of days time, once the official test kicks off. But initial impressions are that this change will do a couple of things:
- Create a more precise amount of downforce when the bike is leaned over, by creating an area of low pressure between the side of the fairing and the ground
- Channel and control airflow while riding. In other photos, the airflow is being channeled to leave the fairing just below the rider's feet. There is also a channel visible at the bottom of the fairing, as Aprilia work to control airflow underneath the bike.
Those are not the only areas Aprilia are working on. In the photo above, you can see what appear to be exit vents at the top of the fairing, just below the upper edge next to the bubble screen. Those appear to be the exits of S ducts, another idea taken from F1. The duct is fed air from somewhere at the front of the fairing, and it exits just above the rider's shoulder.
That could be to reduce drag around the rider (especially in a racing crouch), or it could be a result of taking air from another part of the fairing, where Aprilia want to reduce air pressure for other reasons.
Aprilia are not the only factory to channel air inside the fairing, of course. KTM have been doing it for a while, with the gap between the air intake and the fairing on the KTM RC16, as seen below.
Those channels run down the side of the fairing and exit just in front of the rider's feet, as you can see here if you zoom in and look at the fairing directly in front of the swingarm pivot.
Ducati are not to be left behind, of course, and are fielding their ground-effect fairing as well, though it is hard to tell from the photo below unless you look very closely.
An entertaining detail from this shot of the Ducati is that though the bike has Michele Pirro's number on it (and also obviously has Pirro riding it), it is Pecco Bagnaia's bike, as you can see if you look at the brake guard. The #63 is a dead giveaway.
At the Ducati team launch in Madonna di Campiglio, Davide Barana and Gigi Dall'Igna said there would be more aero updates at Sepang, but the question of whether the fairing Pirro is using is the full of extent of Ducati's new aero parts is very much open to question. It would make sense for some parts to be held back until the official riders arrive for the IRTA test starting on Friday.
A couple more quick notes, before the real test starts. Though the photos provided by Dorna do not make it immediately clear, other shots floating around the internet show that Honda are using the new frame which Stefan Bradl tested at Jerez, when he was on track with the WorldSBK riders at the end of January. This, and the positive feedback from the arrival of Ken Kawauchi from Suzuki suggest that HRC are actually throwing everything at making the bike better, rather than relying on the transcendent talent of Marc Marquez.
At Yamaha, Cal Crutchlow has been spotted using what appears to be a new swingarm, and from the early glimpses, it appears to be a good deal chunkier than the item used last year. More importantly, according to reporting by my friend and colleague Peter McLaren, his top speed looks to be very good. Crutchlow has been regularly clocking over 330 km/h. That is a couple of k's faster than he managed during the race weekend, but in worse conditions. Even better, his top speed was a match for any of the other bikes.
The proof of the pudding, of course, will be when the factory riders get a taste of the track. We will learn a great deal more once the Sepang MotoGP test starts in earnest on the 10th February, and over the three days of track time everyone will have.
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"...disappearing off into…
"...disappearing off into the distance at surprisingly high speed, thanks to its incredibly low drag coefficient."
Well done, David : )
I forget. What ride height…
I forget. What ride height devices are banned this year ? Front is gone ?
In reply to I forget. What ride height… by WaveyD1974
Just the front is gone. Rear…
Just the front is gone. Rear is still allowed
In reply to Just the front is gone. Rear… by David Emmett
Is the Front allowed as a…
Is the Front allowed as a holeshot device for starts?
In reply to Is the Front allowed as a… by GS Rider
Yes, front is still allowed…
Yes, front is still allowed at the start. So front holeshot devices are allowed, front ride-height devices are banned.
In reply to Just the front is gone. Rear… by David Emmett
Thanks David. That's my…
Thanks David. That's my theory number one out of the window for the Aprilia 'bubble ducts'. I was wondering how the top of that huge front guard and the underside of the nose fairing might interact when dropped. Not dropping anymore. The bikes look great !
Vaughly related to ride height devices ... what kind of travel does a modern Moto GP bike typically have?
The Real McCoy
Brilliant... thank you for that link in the article. A great story of an early African American engineer.